Would your leaders and/or staff appreciate being more empowered? Could your ministry team leaders imagine the convenience of not having to wait for board/council meetings for answers to move forward in their ministry? Would your leadership board members appreciate the opportunity to finally have the space to concentrate on the generative and strategic work of the church? While these things may seem unfathomable, they are quite within reach upon creation of guiding principles.

Guiding principles is a set of documents created by the church’s leadership board/council. This document provides clarity on duties, responsibilities, and authority for particular staff and ministry team members. It provides as much permission as the board feels comfortable giving while also providing healthy boundaries to protect the assets and liability of the church. Guiding principles are a set of daily operational and management guidelines to keep the board out of daily management (not appropriate board participation anyway). This allows the board to set operational policies and guidelines once and then release the work of the staff and ministries without the board becoming a bottleneck. The board makes decisions once, creates guiding principles, and eliminates the staff from waiting on answers and decisions. In other words, the board makes single macro decisions rather than repeated micro decisions. Guiding principles are a living, breathing document that can be edited at any time by the leadership board.

When boards are introduced to guiding principles, they tend to love the idea of them and certainly see the value in them. However, surprisingly, many boards struggle to create guiding principles. Board members report being overwhelmed to know how to get started. Too often, this state of feeling overwhelmed causes paralysis. In coaching boards, I encourage leaders to break up the work by topic and leader to create the first rough draft. With some coaching and encouragement, boards can typically create their initial guiding principles within approximately three to four months. 

Not only do guiding principles empower leaders and eliminate bottlenecks, they also provide the opportunity for boards to engage in different conversations at boardroom tables. Once the daily management of the church has been released, the board can now concentrate on the work the board is intended to do – strategic and generative. 

The board is the only body within the church that can do this type of work.  If the board isn’t having these conversations and doing this type of work, then it is not happening.  Too often boards historically spend most of their time with an operational focus instead of releasing that work to ministry team leaders and staff through guiding principles. 

Strategic work ensures all resources are aligned and leveraged to the mission, vision, and core values of the church. Generative work analyzes the vitality, competency, context, and mission field and challenges leaders to make any changes required to become/stay missionally-focused. For many churches, this is a vast change in conversation and work for board members.  However, this shift helps churches become much more focused on their mission rather than the typical focus of maintenance and operations.

If your church would like to empower leaders and change the conversation at the boardroom table by creating guiding principles, there are some options for assistance for your consideration. First, consider hiring a coach who has experience with guiding principles. Or maybe your church would like to invest in unlimited access to resourcing board members for a year with a local church subscription for simplified, accountable structure. Third, perhaps you are interested in investing in coach training to learn about guiding principles and other ways to empower leaders and more missionally-focused churches.